Federico in Spain

Federico is a senior majoring in political science and foreign languages, with a concentration in Spanish and French, in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. The recipient of a Marion Tower Study Abroad Scholarship for Fall 2009, Federico is studying at the Fundacion Jose Ortega y Gasset in Madrid through SMU-in-Spain. He previously studied abroad in 2007 through SMU-in-Paris.

When in Ghent …

DSC04087.jpg After a week of midterm exams here in Madrid, a few of us from the program took off to Ghent, Belgium, for the weekend. I Love Techno 2009, Europe’s largest techno festival, would be held just in time for our arrival.

We arrived in Belgium on Friday night after a short train ride from the Brussels airport. We found out that over 35,000 people were expected to attend this year’s festival, which only added to our excitement.

DSC04052-1.jpgSaturday morning we woke up to explore this small town. The Ghent River was one of the most spectacular sites of the town, full of restaurants and shops for tourists to enjoy. We also visited a castle/fortress that dated back to the 12th century.

We ended our sightseeing early because we had to prepare for the 11-hour techno festival, which would last from 7 Saturday night until 6 Sunday morning.

DSC04130.jpg We arrived at I Love Techno 2009 for a long and spectacular night. Europe’s most famous djs played, including Boyz Noize, Simian Mobile Disco, and Deadmau5. Dozens of djs spun their tunes in five large dance halls, which were connected to a large atrium area.

Although many artists played simultaneously, I was able to see my favorites. After many hours of dancing well into the morning, we took a tram back into the town in order to reach our hotel.

DSC04109.jpgThe next day we woke up to a sunny morning in Ghent. We enjoyed breakfast in the town square, which contains the Ghent Cathedral. We hunted for Belgian waffles and chocolate as we desperately wanted some before we headed back to Madrid.

Our weekend in Belgium was quite a treat after a week full of exams, but our short vacation was over as we returned to a full week of classes back in Madrid.

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Touring the south of Spain

DSC03469-1.jpg The past two weeks here in Spain have been quite eventful. As part of an SMU study trip, we visited the south of Spain, also known as Andalucia. We visited three of the most historical cities, which included Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada.

DSC03451.jpgBecause of the Moorish influence that dominated the south of Spain for eight centuries, there are remnants of their past. The Mezquita found in Cordoba, previously an old mosque, was turned into a Cathedral under Spanish rule during the Catholic Reconquest. We visited this great cathedral, which is surrounded by thick Moorish walls decorated in the mudejar style.

DSC03557.jpg In Sevilla, our two-day stay included a visit to the Reales Alcazares and the Cathedral of Sevilla. Our nights in Sevilla were spectacular, as we were treated to some Flamenco and learned how to dine the Andalusian way.

DSC03684.jpgOn our first night, a group of friends and I found an excellent local restaurant, which I stumbled upon a few years ago. Casa Paco, located in the Alameda de Hercules, offered amazing tapas ranging from swordfish in orange wine sauce to salmorejo, a cold tomato vegetable soup.

The second night, my roommate and I shared a plate of Iberian ham with quail eggs served on toasted bread. (I include details of the meals in Sevilla because they have been the best that I have had so far in Spain.)

As the final city of our study trip, Granada was our last stop. There, the most visited site is the Alhambra. This former palace and fortress under Moorish rule was the last major city taken by the Catholic Kings during the Reconquest.

We ended our tour of the Alhambra with a breathtaking sunset in the Generalife gardens. Although we spent only one night in Granada, most of the SMU students agreed it was one of our favorites.

After our return to Madrid, my roommate and I along with some friends decided to spend the following weekend in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. Because of a Spanish holiday that weekend, we were able to extend our stay in Barcelona for one extra day.

Through a website recommended to me by a friend, we were able to rent an apartment at a reasonable price for four nights. Our apartment was located in the Gothic Quarter, Barcelona’s oldest neighborhood. Now a trendy restaurant and shopping area, the Barrio Gotico was definitely one of my favorite neighborhoods in Barcelona. Near the Gothic Quarter is the Rambla, a large pedestrian street which empties out into the Barceloneta, Barcelona’s port.

DSC03704.jpg Barcelona had beautiful weather throughout our entire stay. We visited the famous architectural works of Antoni Gaudi such as the Sagrada Familia, the Parque Guell, and the Casa Batllo. On our last day we enjoyed a relaxing lunch at a restaurant facing Barcelona’s beach. It had been two years since I had last visited Barcelona, so I tried to take in all that could that final day.

The Catalan language appeared so foreign to me, even though it was not my first encounter with it. I said “adeu” (goodbye) to Barcelona with a sense that I wanted to return once again, as it has become one of my favorite cities in Europe.

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Off to Oktoberfest

Our first full three-day weekend had arrived. A group of friends and I decided to travel to Germany for the opening festivities of Oktoberfest.

DSC03106.jpg But before we left, we were able to catch a concert in Madrid on Thursday night. Zoe, my favorite Mexican alternative rock band, begun my weekend on a good note.

DSC03205-1.jpg We arrived in Munich on Friday morning, and we traveled to Freising, where our hotel was located. Our first day in Munich was exciting. The streets were full of people as many had arrived early for the Oktoberfest celebration.

DSC03128.jpg I was able to do some shopping near Munich’s Marienplatz, the town hall square. That night we visited the famous Hofbrauhaus brewery, which can hold up to 5,000 people.

The next day we prepared for the opening day of Oktoberfest. Once we were on the fair grounds, we ate German pretzels, wiener schnitzels and cold beverages. We ended our visit of Oktoberfest after a few hours, as we wanted to explore more of the city at night.

DSC03118-1.jpg After resting at the hotel, we returned to Munich by train from Freising. On our train ride to the Ostbahnhof train station, we met two Germans who helped us plan our night. We asked them for a good place to have dinner and where to go for discoteques.

One of them took us the smallest restaurant in Munich, which was the best meal I had in Germany. Afterward, we walked to the old warehouse district, which had been converted to a cluster of wild discoteques. The DJs played some of the best mixes I had yet to hear in Europe. We took the first train back to our hotel.

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Finding a Spanish-style routine

IMG_0865-1.jpg My first full of week of school was exciting. The campus here is a great size, and classes are made up of around ten students. I am very happy with my course load, and the professors are excellent. They are extremely approachable and are eager to teach us the material.

I’ve finally gotten into a routine, however in the Spanish style. An early wake-up with a small breakfast begins around 8 a.m. My classes end around noon, so I have time to grab a long and relaxing lunch. Usually, in the afternoon I explore a different part of the city. Then it is time for a siesta. Dinner at my home stay is served past 9 p.m.; therefore I stay awake late into the night.

DSC02912.jpg Some of the neighborhoods I was able to thoroughly visit this week were Malasana, Chueca and Salamanca. My roommate and I found an inviting plaza in Malasana where not a single tourist could be found. We ate pizza at an open air restaurant where the people enjoyed their meal under the sun with a beverage of their choice.

Near Chueca, my roommate and I also found trendy vintage shops and cool local hang-out spots.

DSC02916-1.jpg Finally, we did some shopping in Salamanca where Zara and H&M stores can be found. However, I opted to help out the mom and pop shops, where I purchased a classic skinny tie for a great price.

DSC02815.jpg Friday, SMU took us on a study trip to Segovia, a city 87 kilometers from Madrid. Its most notable monument, a nearly 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct, acts as a gate to the city.

We also visited the town’s Gothic-style cathedral and the Romanesque Alcazar of Segovia. One of the most memorable moments of the trip was the climb to the top of the Alcazar via a medieval spiral staircase. Here, the entire city could be seen as well as the surrounding barren lands.

Saturday, we celebrated my roommate’s 22nd birthday. Ten of us made reservations at the Midnight Rose restaurant in Plaza de Santa Ana. After dinner, we proceeded to the rooftop bar and lounge and enjoyed the beautiful weather we had that night.

Finally, we hopped into two cabs and headed to Gabana 1800, one of Madrid’s most exclusive discoteques. This location is currently my favorite nighttime spot.

DSC03043-1.jpg Sunday, the day I was supposed to rest, ended up being quite eventful. I had made plans the previously night with a University of San Diego friend to watch a Spanish bullfight. We arrived to Ventas, Madrid’s bullfighting arena built in the 1920s, late in the afternoon. The two-hour event was very exciting to say the least. One of the most spectacular events was when an angry bull flipped a horse on his back along with his rider. The crowd gasped as the bull fought a horse and rider once they were on the ground.

A full three-day weekend is coming. It took me a while to decide where I want to go. My next blog entry will detail this experience.

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Modern Madrid

DSC02569.jpg Friday afternoon we had arrived back to beautiful Madrid. We had left rustic Toledo behind, and now our weekend in modern Madrid would begin. The city was full of life, vibrant and overwhelming.

My roommate and I explored our neighborhood, Barrio de Salamanca, and instantly fell in love with it. High-end clothing stores, small bars and restaurants, and large sidewalks make up most of this exclusive area.

DSC02584-1.jpg Word had gotten around the Fundacion Ortega y Gasset that our first night out in Madrid would take place at Kapital, Madrid’s famous seven story discoteque. Students from both SMU and the University of San Diego partnered up for a memorable night in Europe’s capital for nightlife. The following timeline explains the events that occurred:

12:00 a.m. Agreed meet-up time
12:30 a.m. Actual meet-up time
1:30 a.m. Entrance into Kapital
4:00 a.m. Discoteque at its capacity
6:00 a.m. Opening of Madrid’s Metro
6:30 a.m. My departure

When leaving Kapital, my safety was at no point in any danger. The streets were full of taxis and the people of Madrid were beginning their Saturday errands. I arrived home with no problems; however, I had no time to rest as I had agreed to visit my host family’s vacation home that day. We left around 10 a.m. to El Escorial, where the historical residence of the King of Spain is found.

DSC02619.jpg We were taken on a horseback adventure through the mountains near Cercedilla, a neighboring town. Our journey was spectacular, even though I was running on only two hours of sleep. My roommate and I were treated to an amazing lunch which consisted of Spanish chorizo, cheese, potatoes, salad, fresh bread. We took a short nap in the garden, and I am glad I did.

DSC02708-1.jpg We returned to Madrid around 10 p.m. on Saturday in order to repeat a night of dancing once again. This time, Joy Eslava was the discoteque of choice. Joy, as the locals call it, had a more exclusive atmosphere and a higher pricetag. Nonstop hours of techno and house music did not seem to wear out the dance floor, as the discoteque was full when I left around 6 a.m.. Sunday was my day of rest. School would begin the following day.

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Rustic Toledo

DSC02557-1.jpg DSC02424.jpg A few days before the beginning of the SMU-in-Madrid program, I was welcomed by a Hitchcock-like quietness throughout the city on a Sunday afternoon. I had arrived early in Madrid in order to adjust to the city and pick up the European rhythm.

Surprisingly, Madrid appeared lifeless, with very few cars and people throughout the streets. However, I was excited because of what I would see and who I would meet in the four months to come.

DSC02430.jpg Once our orientation had begun in Toledo, I had still not gotten over my terrible jet lag. Our arrival to the picturesque medieval town just an hour south of Madrid was spectacular. The weather was a bit warm; however, the sky’s blue was remarkable. The town sparkled with its delicious restaurants, cute boutiques and arms and armor shops.

DSC02461.jpg We learned that Toledo had previously been dominated by Christian, Jewish and Moorish cultures throughout its history. We visited the remnants of these cultures with guided visits to both the Alcazar and the Cathedral of Toledo, and to the Synagogue of El Transito. During our free time, we aimlessly walked through the tiny streets and visited the world-famous Toledo sword shops.

We left for Madrid on our third day, and a full weekend in the capital was in store.

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